By DAVID BRANDT
The NFL’s Week 18 saved its best drama for the final game of the weekend.
The Detroit Lions — eliminated from playoff contention earlier Sunday when the Seahawks beat the Rams — pushed past their disappointment and played the role of a spoiler, rallying to beat Green Bay 20-16 on Sunday night. The win denied quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers a spot in the postseason.
Instead of Green Bay, it’s the Seahawks who will be the No. 7 seed in the NFC. They’ll travel to face division rival San Francisco in next weekend’s wild-card round.
The rest of next weekend’s schedule is also set: In the AFC, it’ll be the Miami Dolphins at the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens at the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars. In the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings will host the New York Giants and the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Bucs host the Dallas Cowboys.
The Lions’ upset win capped a weekend that saw the Dolphins make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The surprising Jaguars also return to the postseason for just the second time since 2007.
Seven of the 14 teams that qualified for the playoffs didn’t make the field last season, including the Seahawks, Ravens, Jaguars, Chargers, Dolphins, Vikings and Giants.
Among those headed home: The New England Patriots and six-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Belichick, eliminated after a loss to the Bills.
The Lions didn’t have much to play for against the Packers other than pride, but that was enough. They were knocked out of playoff contention when Seattle’s Jason Myers kicked a 32-yard field goal to beat the Los Angeles Rams 19-16 in overtime.
The No. 1 overall seed in the AFC was claimed by Kansas City with its 31-13 win over Las Vegas on Saturday. The NFC’s top spot was taken by Philadelphia, which beat the New York Giants 22-16 on Sunday.
The AFC bracket could still be affected by the cancellation of the Bills-Bengals game after Hamlin’s injury. The Bengals avoided a coin flip for home field after beating the Ravens 27-16, but there still could be a neutral field AFC championship game if the Bills line up against the Chiefs.
Here’s a look at some other developments as the postseason approaches:
WHAT’S THE WILD-CARD SCHEDULE?
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals, 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC
WHAT’S THE FORMAT FOR THE PLAYOFFS?
This is the third straight year of the current NFL playoff format, which includes the top seven teams from both the AFC and the NFC.
The four division winners in both conferences automatically get the top four seeds, regardless of record, and then the top three teams with the best record that didn’t win their division are the wild-card selections. That’s why it’s fairly common for a wild-card selection to have a better record — but worse playoff seeding — than a team that finished as a division winner.
The No. 1-seeded team in each conference gets a bye into the second round — that’s the Chiefs and Eagles — while No. 2 hosts No. 7, No. 3 hosts No. 6 and No. 4 hosts No. 5 during wild-card weekend.
The NFL has a re-seeding policy after each playoff round. That means that no matter how the bracket started, the lowest-seeded team will always travel to the higher-seeded team.
There are four rounds to the playoffs: The wild-card round is during the upcoming weekend, the divisional round is Jan. 21-22, the conference championship games are on Jan. 29 and the Super Bowl is scheduled for Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona.
WHAT CHANGED WITH THE BILLS-BENGALS CANCELLATION?
It’s been an eventful week for players and fans, who watched in horror Monday night as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field and had to be given CPR before leaving the field in an ambulance. A few days later, those same players and fans have watched with joy as Hamlin recovers.
That made it much easier to focus on Week 18 and now the playoffs.
The Bills-Bengals game had major playoff implications in the AFC, so the cancellation of the game due to Hamlin’s injury could force some changes depending on playoff results.
The AFC championship game will be played on a neutral site if the Chiefs and Bills reach that point.
Buffalo’s 35-23 win over New England on Sunday coupled with Kansas City’s 31-13 victory at Las Vegas on Saturday means the No. 1 seed Chiefs (14-3) can’t host the conference title game against the Bills (13-3) because the teams played an unequal number of games.
NFL owners approved a resolution Friday that implemented new rules for this postseason in response to the cancellation of the Bills-Bengals game.
WHAT ELSE HAPPENED THIS WEEKEND?
In fairly straightforward playoff drama, the Jaguars beat the Tennessee Titans 20-16 on Saturday night to win the AFC South for the first time in five seasons. The Titans needed a win to advance to the postseason.
The Dolphins and third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson squeezed past the Jets 11-6, snapping a five-game losing streak. Miami then had to wait a few minutes for Buffalo to finish off New England to make the Dolphins’ playoff appearance official.
“We’re In” was displayed on the videoboard at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Pittsburgh Steelers nearly found a way to sneak into the postseason but couldn’t quite make it. They did their part by beating the Browns 28-14 but needed the Patriots and Dolphins to lose.
The Patriots obliged. The Dolphins did not.
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi and AP Sports Writer Alanis Thames contributed to this report.
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